MEETING LIFE CHALLENGES : STRESS
Stress: – The pattern of responses an organism makes to stimulus event that disturbs the equilibrium and exceeds a person’s ability to cope.
NATURE OF STRESS
Stress is not a factor that resides in the individual or the environment, instead it is embedded in an ongoing process that involves individuals transacting with their social and cultural environments, making appraisals of those encounters and attempting to cope with the issues that arise. Stress is a dynamic mental/cognitive state. It is a disruption in homeostasis or an imbalance that gives rise to a requirement for resolution of that imbalance or restoration of homeostasis
The stresses which people experience also vary in terms of intensity (low intensity vs. High intensity), duration (short-term vs. long-term), complexity ( less complex vs. More complex) and predictability (unexpected vs. predictable). The outcome of stress depends on the position of a particular stressful experience along these dimensions. Usually more intense, prolonged or chronic, complex and unanticipated stresses have more negative consequences than have less intense, short-term, less complex and expected stresses. An individual’s experiences of stress depend on the physiological strength of that person. Thus, individuals with poor physical health and weak constitution would be more vulnerable than would be those who enjoy good health and strong Constitution. Psychological characteristics like mental health, temperament, and self-concept are relevant to the experience of stress. The cultural context in which we live determines the meaning of any event and defines the nature of response that is expected under various conditions. Finally, the stress experience will be determined by the resources of the person, such as money, social skills, coping style, support networks, etc. All these factors determine the appraisal of a given stressful situation.
Signs and Symptoms of Stress
The way we respond to stress varies depending upon our personality, early upbringing and life experiences. Everyone has their own pattern of stress response So the warning signs may vary, as may their intensity. Symptoms of stress can be physical, emotional and behavioural. Any of the symptoms can indicate a degree of stress which, if left unresolved, might have serious implications.
TYPES OF STRESS
The three major types of stress, viz. physical and environmental, psychological, and social.
- Physical and Environmental Stress
Physical stresses are demands that change the state of the body. One feel strained when overexert itself physically, lack a nutritious diet, suffer an injury, or fail to get enough sleep. Environmental Stresses are aspects of the surroundings that are often unavoidable such as air pollution, crowding, noise, heat of the summer, winter cold, etc. Another group of environmental stresses are catastrophic events or disasters such as fire, earthquake, floods, etc.
- Psychological Stress
These are stresses that generated minds. These are personal and unique to the person experiencing them and are internal sources of stress. Worry about problems, feel anxiety, or become depressed. These are not only symptoms of stress, but they cause further stress. Some of the important sources of psychological stress are frustration, conflicts, internal and social pressures, etc.
- Social Stress
These are induced externally and result from our interaction with other people. Social events like death or illness in the family, strained relationships, trouble with neighbours are some examples of social stresses. These social stresses vary widely from person to person.
Sources of Stress
A wide range of events and conditions can generate stress. Among the most important of these are major stressful life events, such as death of a loved one or personal injury, the annoying frequent hassles of everyday life and traumatic events that affect the lives.
Life Events Changes, both big and small, sudden and gradual affect the life from the moment a person born.
These are the personal stresses we endure as individuals, due to the happenings in our daily life, such as noisy surroundings, commuting, quarrelsome neighbours, electricity and water shortage, traffic snarls, and so on. The more stress people report as a result of daily hassles, the poorer is their psychological well-being.
- Traumatic Events
These include being involved in a variety of extreme events such as a fire, train or road accident, robbery, earthquake, tsunami, etc. The effects of these events may occur after some lapse of time and Sometimes persist as symptoms of anxiety, flashbacks, dreams and intrusive thoughts, etc.
EFFECTS OF STRESS
There are four major effects of stress associated with the stressed state, viz. emotional, physiological, cognitive, and behavioural.
- Emotional Effects : Those who suffer from stress are far more likely to experience mood swings, and show erratic behaviour that may alienate them from family and friends. Some examples are feelings of anxiety and depression, increased physical tension, increased psychological tension and mood swings.
- Physiological Effects : When the human body is placed under physical or psychological stress, it increases the production of certain hormones, such as adrenaline and cortical. These hormones produce marked changes in heart rate, blood pressure levels, metabolism and physical activity Examples of physiological effects are release of epinephrine and nor -epinephrine, slowing down of the digestive system, expansion of air passages in the lungs, increased heart rate, and constriction of blood vessels.
- Cognitive Effects: If pressures due to stress continue, one may suffer from mental overload. This suffering from high level of stress can rapidly cause individuals to lose their ability to make sound decisions.
- Behavioural Effects: Stress affects our behaviour in the form of eating less nutritional food, increasing intake of stimulants such as caffeine, excessive consumption of cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs such as tranquillisers etc. Tranquillisers can be addictive and have side effects such as loss of concentration, poor coordination, and dizziness. Some of the typical behavioural effects of stress seen are disrupted sleep patterns, increased absenteeism, and reduced work performance.
Stress and Health
People who are unhappy in their personal lives fall sick more often than those who are happy and enjoy life. Chronic daily stress can divert an individual’s attention from caring for herself or himself. When stress is prolonged, it affects physical health and impairs psychological functioning. People experience exhaustion and attitudinal problems when the stress due to demands from the environment and constraints are too high and little support is available from family and friends. The physical exhaustion is seen in the signs of chronic fatigue, weakness and low energy. The mental exhaustion appears in the form of irritability, anxiety, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. This state of physical, emotional and psychological exhaustion is known as burnout.
General Adaptation Syndrome
General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). According to him, GAS involves three stages: alarm reaction, resistance, and exhaustion.
1. Alarm reaction stage : The presence of a noxious stimulus or stressor leads to activation of the adrenal pituitary- cortex system. This triggers the release of hormones producing the stress response. Now the individual is ready for fight or flight.
2. Resistance stage : If stress is prolonged, the resistance stage begins. The parasympathetic
nervous system calls for more cautious use of the body’s resources. The organism makes efforts to cope with the threat, as through confrontation.
3. Exhaustion stage : Continued exposure to the same stressor or additional stressors drains the body of its resources and leads to the third stage of exhaustion. The physiological systems involved in alarm reaction and resistance become ineffective and susceptibility to stress-related diseases such as high blood pressure becomes more likely.
Stress and the Immune System
Stress can cause illness by impairing the workings of the immune system. The immune system guards the body against attackers, both from within and outside. Psychoneuroimmunology focuses on the links between the mind, the brain and the immune system. It studies the effects of stress on the immune system. The white blood cells (leucocytes) within the immune system identify and destroy foreign bodies. (antigens) such as viruses. It also leads to the production of antibodies. There are several kinds of white blood cells or leucocytes within the immune system, including T cells, B cells and natural killer cells. T cells destroy invaders, and T-helper cells increase immunological activity. It is these T-helper cells that are attacked by the Human Immuno Deficiency Virus (HIV), the virus causing Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). B cells produce antibodies. Natural killer cells are involved in the fight against both viruses and tumours. Stress can affect natural killer cell cytotoxicity, which is of major importance in the defence against various infections and cancer. Reduced levels of natural killer cell cytotoxicity have been found in people who are highly stressed, including students facing important examinations, bereaved persons, and those who are severely depressed. Studies reveal that immune functioning is better in individuals receiving social support.
Stressed individuals may be more likely to expose themselves to pathogens, which are agents causing physical illness. People who are stressed have poor nutritional habits, sleep less and are likely to engage in other health risking behaviours like smoking and alcohol abuse. Such health impairing behaviours develop gradually and are accompanied by pleasant experiences temporarily.
COPING WITH STRESS
Coping is a dynamic situation-specific reaction to stress. It is a set of concrete responses to stressful situations or events that are intended to resolve the problem and reduce stress. The way we cope with stress often depends on rigid deep-seated beliefs, based on experience. Individuals show consistent individual differences in the coping strategies they use to handle stressful situations. These can include both overt and covert activities. The three coping strategies given-
- Task-oriented Strategy : This involves obtaining information about the stressful situation and about alternative courses of action and their probable outcome; it also involves deciding priorities and acting so as to deal directly with the stressful situation.
- Emotion-oriented Strategy : This can involve efforts to maintain hope and to control one’s emotions; it can also involve venting feelings of anger and frustration, or deciding that nothing can be done to change things.
- Avoidance-oriented Strategy : This involves denying or minimising the seriousness of the situation; it also involves conscious suppression of stressful thoughts and their replacement by self-protective thoughts.
Coping refers to constantly changing cognitive and behavioural efforts to master, reduce or tolerate the internal or external demands that are created by the stressful transaction. Coping serves to allow the individual to manage or alter a problem and regulate the emotional response to that problem. Coping responses can be divided into two types of responses, problem-focused and emotion focused.
Problem-focused strategies attack the problem itself, with behaviours designed to gain information, to alter the event, and to alter belief and commitments. They increase the person’s awareness, level of knowledge, and range of behavioural and cognitive coping options. They can act to reduce the threat value of the event.
Emotion-focused strategies call for psychological changes designed primarily to limit the degree of emotional disruption caused by an event, with minimal effort to alter the event itself. While both problem-focused and emotion-focused coping are necessary when facing stressful situations, research suggests that people generally tend to use the former more often than the latter.
STRESS MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES
Stress is a silent killer. It is estimated to play a significant role in physical illness and disease. Hypertension, heart disease, ulcers, diabetes and even cancer are linked to stress. Due to lifestyle changes stress is on the increase.
Some of these techniques are:
Relaxation Techniques : It is an active skill that reduces symptoms of stress and decreases the incidence of illnesses such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Usually relaxation starts from the lower part of the body and progresses up to the facial muscles in such a way that the whole body is relaxed. Deep breathing is used along with muscle relaxation to calm the mind and relax the body.
Meditation Procedures: The yogic method of meditation consists of a sequence oflearned techniques for refocusing of attention that brings about an altered state of consciousness. It involves such a thorough concentration that the meditator becomes unaware of any outside stimulation and reaches a different state of consciousness.
Biofeedback: It is a procedure to monitor and reduce the physiological aspects of stress by providing feedback about current physiological activity and is often accompanied by relaxation training. Biofeedback training involves three stages : developing an awareness of the particular physiological response, e.g. heart rate, learning ways of controlling that physiological response in quiet conditions; and transferring that control into the conditions of everyday life.
Creative Visualisation: It is an effective technique for dealing with stress. Creative visualisation is a subjective experience that uses imagery and imagination. Before visualising one must set oneself a realistic goal, as it helps build confidence. It is easier to visualise if one’s mind is quiet, body relaxed and eyes are closed. This reduces the risk of interference from unbidden thoughts and provides the creative energy needed for turning an imagined scene into reality.
Cognitive Behavioural Techniques: These techniques aim to inoculate people against stress. Stress inoculation training is one effective method developed by Meichenbaum. The essence of this approach is to replace negative and irrational thoughts with positive and rational ones. There are three main phases in this : assessment, stress reduction techniques, and application and follow-through. Assessment involves discussing the nature of the problem and seeing it from the viewpoint of the person/client. Stress reduction involves learning the techniques of reducing stress such as relaxation and self-instruction.
Exercise : Exercise can provide an active outlet for the physiological arousal experienced in response to stress. Regular exercise improves the efficiency of the heart, enhances the function of the lungs, maintains good circulation, lowers blood pressure, reduces fat in the blood and improves the body’s immune system. Swimming, walking, running, cycling, skipping, etc. help to reduce stress.
PROMOTING POSITIVE HEALTH AND WELL-BEING
- Stress Resistant Personality :
People with high levels of stress but low levels of illness share three characteristics, which are referred to as the personality traits of hardiness. It consists of ‘the three Cs’, i.e. commitment, control, and challenge
Hardiness is a set of beliefs about oneself, the world, and how they interact. It takes shape as a sense of personal commitment to what you are doing, a sense of control over your life, and a feeling of challenge.
- Life Skills:
Life skills are abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. The ability to cope depends on how well we are prepared to deal with and counterbalance everyday demands, and keeps equilibrium in the life. These life skills can be learned and even improved upon. Assertiveness, time management, rational thinking, improving relationships, self-care, and overcoming unhelpful habits such as perfectionism, procrastination, etc. are some life skills that will help to meet the challenges of life.
- Assertiveness :
Assertiveness is a behaviour or skill that helps to communicate, clearly and confidently, our feelings, needs, wants, and thoughts. It is the ability to say no to a request, to state an opinion without being self-conscious, orto express emotions such as love, anger, etc. openly.
- Time Management :
The way of spending the time determines the quality of life. plan time and The major way to reduce time stress is to change one’s perception of time. The central principle of time management is to spend time doing the things that have value, or that help to achieve the goals.
- Rational Thinking :
Many stress-related problems occur as a result of distorted thinking. The way of think and the way of feel are closely connected. When weare stressed, we have an inbuilt selective bias to attend to negative thoughts and images from the past, which affect our perception of the present and the future.
- Improving Relationships :
The key to a sound lasting relationship is communication. This consists of three essential skills: listening to what the other person is saying, expressing how the feeling and what to think, and accepting the other person’s opinions and feelings, even if they are different from own. It also requires us to avoid misplaced jealousy and sulking behaviour.
- Self-care :
To keep ourselves healthy, fit and relaxed, we are better prepared physically and emotionally to tackle the stresses of everyday life. Our breathing patterns reflect our state of mind and emotions. When we are stressed or anxious, we tend towards rapid and shallow breathing from high in the chest, with frequent sighs. The most relaxed breathing is slow, stomach-centred breathing from the diaphragm.
- Overcoming Unhelpful Habits :
Unhelpful habits such as perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination, etc. are strategies that help to cope in the short-term but which make one more vulnerable to stress.
Perfectionists are persons who have to get everything just right. They have difficulty in varying standards according to factors such as time available, consequences of not being able to stop work, and the effort needed. They are more likely to feel tense and find it difficult to relax, are critical of self and others, and may become inclined to avoid challenges.
Various factors have been identified which facilitate the development of positive health. Health is a state of complete physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Positive health comprises the following constructs: “a healthy body; high quality of personal relationships; a sense of purpose in life; self-regard, mastery of life’s tasks; and Resilience to stress, trauma, and change”.
- Diet :
A balanced diet can lift one’s mood, give more energy, feed muscles, improve circulation, prevent illness, strengthen the immune system and make one feel better to cope with stresses of life.
- Exercise :
A large number of studies confirm a consistently positive relationship between physical fitness and health. Also, of all the measures an individual can take to improve health, exercise is the lifestyle change with the widest popular approval. Regular exercise plays an important role in managing weight and stress, and is shown to have a positive effect on reducing tension, anxiety and depression.
- Positive Attitude :
Positive health and well-being can be realised by having a positive attitude. Some of the factors leading to a positive attitude are: having a fairly accurate perception of reality; a sense of purpose in life and responsibility; acceptance and tolerance for different viewpoints of others; and taking credit for success and accepting blame for failure.
- Positive Thinking :
The power of positive thinking has been increasingly recognised in reducing and coping with stress. Optimism, which is the inclination to expect favourable life outcomes, has been linked to psychological and physical wellbeing. People differ in the manner in which they cope.
- Social Support :
Social support is defined as the existence and availability of people on whom one can rely upon, people who let one know that they care about, value and support. Social support can help to provide protection against stress. People with high levels of social support from family and friends may experience less stress when they confront a stressful experience, and they may cope with it more successfully.
Social support may be in the form of tangible support or assistance involving material aid, such as money, goods, services, etc. Family and friends also provide informational support about stressful events. Supportive friends and family provide emotional support by reassuring the individual that she/he is loved, valued, and cared for. Research has demonstrated that social support effectively reduces psychological distress such as depression or anxiety, during times of stress.